John II of Portugal

John II of Portugal
John II
King Dom João II (John II)
King of Portugal and the Algarves
Reign 11 November 1477–15 November 1477 (4 days)
Predecessor Afonso V
Successor Afonso V
King of Portugal and the Algarves
(second time)
Reign 28 August 1481—25 October 1495 (&1000000000000001400000014 years, &1000000000000005800000058 days)
Predecessor Afonso V
Successor Manuel I
Spouse Eleanor of Viseu
Afonso, Prince of Portugal
Father Afonso V of Portugal
Mother Isabella of Coimbra
Born 3 March 1455
Alcáçovas Palace, Castle of São Jorge, Lisbon, Kingdom of Portugal
Died 25 October 1495(1495-10-25) (aged 40)
Alvor, Portimão, Kingdom of Algarve
Burial Monastery of Batalha, Batalha, District of Leiria, Portugal
Portuguese royalty
House of Avis
Ordem Avis.svg

John I
   Edward I
   Peter, Duke of Coimbra
   Henry the Navigator
   Isabella, Duchess of Burgundy
   John, Lord of Reguengos de Monsaraz
   Ferdinand the Saint Prince
Grandchildren include
   Isabella, Queen of Portugal
   Afonso V
   Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu
   Eleanor, Holy Roman Empress
   Joan, Queen of Castile
Grandchildren include
   Manuel I
   Eleanor, Queen of Portugal
   Isabella, Duchess of Braganza
Great-Grandchildren include
   James, Duke of Braganza, Prince of Portugal
Afonso V
Children include
   John, Prince of Portugal
   Joan, Princess of Portugal
   John II
John II
   Afonso, Prince of Portugal

John II (Portuguese pronunciation: [ʒuˈɐ̃w̃]; Portuguese: João II) (3 March 1455–25 October 1495), the Perfect Prince (Port. o Príncipe Perfeito), was the thirteenth king of Portugal and the Algarves. He is known for re-establishing the power of the Portuguese throne, reinvigorating its economy, and renewing its exploration of Africa and the Orient.


Early life

Born in Lisbon, the son of King Afonso V of Portugal by his wife, Isabella of Coimbra, princess of Portugal, John II succeeded his father in 1477 when the king retired to a monastery, but only became king in 1481, after the death of his father and predecessor.

As a prince, John II accompanied his father in the campaigns in northern Africa and was made a knight after the victory in the Conquest of Arzila in 1471. In 1473, he married Leonor of Viseu, Infanta of Portugal and his first cousin.

Even at a young age, John was not popular among the peers of the kingdom since he was immune to external influence and appeared to despise intrigue. The nobles (including particularly Ferdinand II, the Duke of Braganza), were afraid of his future policies as king.

Consolidation of Power

King John II

After his official accession to the throne in 1481, John II took a series of measures to curtail the overgrown power of his aristocracy and to concentrate power in himself. Immediately, the nobles started to conspire. Letters of complaint and pleas to intervene were exchanged between the Duke of Braganza and Queen Isabella I of Castile. In 1483, this correspondence was intercepted by royal spies. The House of Braganza was outlawed, their lands confiscated and the duke executed in Évora.

In the following year, the Duke of Viseu, John's cousin and brother-in-law, was summoned to the palace and stabbed to death by the king himself for suspicion of a new conspiracy. Many other people were executed, murdered, or exiled to Castile including the bishop of Évora who was poisoned in prison.

Concerning the rebellious nobles, the king is reported to have said, "I'm the lord of lords, not the server of servants"[citation needed]. Following the crackdown, no one in the country dared to defy the king and John saw no further conspiracies during his reign. The nobles who sided with John II or surrendered were forced to make public pledges of loyalty; in return they were given certain privileges, yet they still had to pay taxes.


Facing a bankrupt kingdom, John II showed the initiative to solve the situation by creating an agile regime in which the Council of Scholars took a vital role. The king then conducted a search of the population and selected members of the Council according to their abilities, talents and credentials. Popular complaints on judicial acts normally had the sympathy of the king. John's exploration policies (see below) also paid great dividends. Even before the Tordesilhas Treaty, such was the profit coming from John II's investments in the overseas explorations and expansion that the Portuguese currency had become the soundest in Europe. The kingdom could finally collect taxes on its own as all of its debts had been paid off, mainly thanks to its main gold source at that time, the coast of Guinea.


John II famously restored the policies of Atlantic exploration, reviving the work of his great-uncle, Henry the Navigator. The Portuguese explorations were his main priority in government, pushing south the known coast of Africa with the purpose of discovering the maritime route to India. During his reign, the following achievements were realized:

Some historians[who?] argue about the real extent of Portuguese voyages of exploration during this period, claiming the king had a secrecy policy. According to this theory some navigations were kept secret for fear of competition by neighbouring Castile. The archives of this period were destroyed in the fire after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and what was not destroyed during the earthquake was either stolen or destroyed during the Peninsular War or otherwise lost. Their true extent has long been the subject of academic debate.[2][3][4]

Conflict with Castile

When Columbus returned from his voyage he thought of first stopping in Lisbon to claim his victory in front of King John II. King John II's only response to this was that under the Treaty of Alcáçovas previously signed with Spain, Columbus's discoveries lay within Portugal's sphere of influence. Before Columbus even reached Isabella I of Castile, John II had already sent a letter to them threatening to send a fleet to claim it for Portugal. Spain quickly hastened to the negotiating table which took place in a small town near the Portuguese border named Tordesillas. There was also a papal representative during that occasion in order to act as mediator. The result of this would be the famous Treaty of Tordesillas.

But the division of the world was not the main issue between the Iberian kingdoms. Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon had several daughters, but only one feeble male heir — Juan. The oldest daughter, Isabella of Aragon, had been married to Afonso, Prince of Portugal, since childhood. Afonso was John II's only son and beloved by the king. If Juan died without male heir, as was probable, Afonso would be heir not only of Portugal, but also of Castile and Aragon. This threat to Castilian and Aragonese independence was very real, and the Catholic Monarchs tried every diplomatic trick to dissolve the wedding. Finally, in 1491, Afonso died in mysterious circumstances — a fall from a horse during a ride in the margin of the Tagus river. The influence of the Catholic Monarchs in this accident was never proved, but the prince was an excellent rider, his Castilian valet fled never to be seen again, and after this, Isabella, the heiress, was no longer married to the enemy. John tried without success until the end of his life to legitimise Jorge, Duke of Coimbra, his illegitimate son.


John II died at Alvor without leaving a male heir apparent, aged only 40 years old. He was succeeded by his first cousin Manuel I.

The nickname the Perfect Prince is a late description and refers to Niccolò Machiavelli's work The Prince. John II is considered to have lived his life exactly according to the writer's idea of a perfect prince. Nevertheless, he was admired as one of the greatest European monarchs of his time. Isabella I of Castile usually referred to him as El Hombre (The Man).

In popular culture


  1. ^ Disney, A.R. (2009) A History of Portugal and the Portugal Empire, Volume 2: The Potuguese Empire: 38-39; Cambridge University Press: New York
  2. ^ Charles E. Nowell (1936). "The Discovery of Brazil: Accidental or Intentional?". The Hispanic American Historical Review 16 (3): 311–338. Retrieved 17 November 2010. 
  3. ^ J. Baltalha-Reis (1897). "The Supposed Discovery of South America before 1488, and Critical Methods of the Historians of Geographical Discovery". The Geographical Journal 9 (2): 185–210. Retrieved 17 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Ilaria Luzzana Caraci (1988). Columbus and the Portuguese Voyages in the Columbian Sources. UC Biblioteca Geral 1. Retrieved 17 November 2010. 
  • Page, Martin The First Global Village
  • Boxer, Charles R. From Lisbon to Goa, 1500–1750 (1991)
  • Boxer, Charles R. The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415–1825
  • Mira, Manuel S. Forgotten Portuguese: The Melungeons and the Portuguese Making of America (1998)
  • Duffy, James Portuguese Africa (1968)
  • Bodian, Mirian Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation (1997)


Marriage and descendants

Of his wife, Leonor of Viseu, Infanta of Portugal John had two sons, but only one of them survived childhood.

Name Birth Death Notes
By Leonor of Viseu ( 2 May 1458 – 17 November 1525; married in January 1471)
Infante Afonso 18 May 1475 13 July 1491 Prince of Portugal. Died in a horse riding accident. Because of the premature death of the prince the throne was inherited by Manuel of Viseu, Duke of Beja, son of Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu, who reigned as Manuel I, 14th King of Portugal.
Infante João (John) 1483 1483  
By Ana de Mendonça (c. 1460-?)
Jorge 21 August 1481 22 July 1550 Natural son known as Jorge de Lencastre. Duke of Coimbra.
By Brites Anes (c. 1460-?)
Brites Anes de Santarém c. 1485 ? Natural daughter.
John II of Portugal
Cadet branch of the House of Burgundy
Born: 3 March 1455 Died: 25 October 1495
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Afonso V
King of Portugal and the Algarves
Succeeded by
Afonso V
King of Portugal and the Algarves
Succeeded by
Manuel I
Portuguese royalty
Preceded by
Prince of Portugal
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Prince of Portugal

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